Day 4 Los Perros to Refugio Grey
Where to start?
This was a short walking day, only 9.3 miles (15km) but it took us 9 hours and 20 minutes. We moved at a rate of less than 1 mile per hour. The conditions were that bad.
Early, the day started early. All hikers had been told they had to be off by 7:00. It had been a cold night with snow. Our tent was was pitched in a slight dip, straight on the ground rather than on a platform. We rented mattresses to keep us from near death or worst still, drowning.
It was one of those nights when you were not going to escape the desperation to pee. All the tents were huddled together under trees, so peeing just outside the tent was not really an option. The loo in the shelter was too far away with trip hazards aplenty from tree roots to tent guys, not to mention the snow and mud, so what to do? In the end I chose my blue cup! It became my wee blue cup after that!
We left the camp at 6:00. Most others in our cohort had left before us, but there were one or two stragglers. The path was treacherous from the get go. Steep, muddy, riddled with streams, slippery tangled tree roots, snow, blustery winds which smashed into you on the scree slopes between the relative protection of the trees. Once above the tree line it was a matter of turning your back to the wind, legs wide and firmly planting your hiking poles, 4 points of contact with the ground, until the gust passed.
Once into the vast expanse of the upper valley, we decided to move forward in tight convoy, stopping together for each white out. The snow got deep, the foot prints of those ahead, soon vanished. The path was marked by red poles and it became very important to catch site of the next before leaving the last. None of us had expected conditions quite like this.
I had to stop to put on an extra layer, so we all had to stop. In the lee of a boulder I got my back pack off, opened it, pulled out my hooded top, handed it to Andy. It flapped in the wind and quickly got snow covered. I shut my bag, took off my anorak, handed that to Andy. Quickly I put the top on, zipped it up, grabbed my anorak, got that on and got the pack on my back. I found myself apologising to the others for the stop. There was no talk of turning back. On we moved. Heads down. Later a quick stop to drink and eat handfuls of nuts and dried fruit. We reached the pass, stopped briefly for photos and gingerly started down.
The snow rendered the landscape uniform, our feet disappeared under it, sometimes knee deep, this was dangerous, potential bone crushing, ankle twisting, knee dislocating territory. What if….?? There was no protection here, no way to shelter an injured person and keep warm while waiting for rescue. Both Ona and Kris had Satellite emergency devices but quite how a rescue would be initiated or executed and how long it would take were unknown. We kept going. I felt I could trust my body and hoped the others could trust theirs.
My thin gloves froze solid. I wondered what frostbite might feel like and how many fingers I could afford to lose. My hands could no longer grip my hiking poles. I forced another stop. We huddled together against the wind like emperor penguins, Kris produced another pair of gloves, Ona some hand warmers. It was a battle to get the cellophane wrappers off the warmers then and activate the heat giving chemicals. With help, I forced my numb hands into the dry gloves, stuffed the warmer sachets inside, and then somehow got my frozen gloves over the top. The relief from the biting cold was near instant.
Dwarf trees started to emerge, we were soon back in forest, it was a little warmer but not enough to rest for long. The path became crazy steep, giant boulders, massive roots, muddy, slippery and in places exposed. Andy was not happy, vertigo messing with his mind. We worried about the other walkers. The Russian American girls were wearing shoes, not boots. How would they manage in these conditions? We were aware of a few people who were walking solo. Where were they now?
We began to get views of the massive Glacier Grey, a welcome distraction. Sometime after, and rather dazed, we arrived at the Paso Shelter. There, we found around 10 walkers standing at a high bench brewing hot drinks. We were greeted with cheers! These people had worried about us just as we had worried about them. They, on account of our age (we were definitely the oldest on the trail), and we on account of their youth!
Next on the list of distractions, but not welcomed by Andy, was a series of long and bouncy suspension bridges, slung across dramatic deep ravines. This really is the stuff of nightmares for someone who suffers vertigo. He decided to be the first to cross, not wait for any discussion or pep talk, but just to get it over with as fast as he could, and he did! From one bridge, it was possible to see straight up the sheer rock wall of the Torres, but this was not a good place to stop and take a photo.
Further on we began to encounter groups of walkers, coming up the valley, towards us, day trippers from Refugio Grey. We were muddy, wet, heavily laden, slow moving. They were clean, fresh, being steered by guides. The ‘O’ can only be followed in an anti-clockwise direction to enable walkers to cross the John Gardiner pass in the early morning when the wind, apparently, possibly, sometimes, occasionally, might be somewhat less, than later in the day. Most people follow the ‘W’, or parts of it, routes that avoid the John Gardiner altogether, and for good reason.